Wisconsin art show transforms lives


The Madison Museum of Contemporary Art (MMoCA) is on a mission to transform lives through art. The Triennial, showcases contemporary artists from Wisconsin who make a statement about or contributes to culture in their work.

The Triennial features work from 34 individuals, one-third of whom are people of color: Native Americans, African Americans, Asian Americans and Latinos. And almost half of the artists are women.

Isthmus has an in-depth preview of what to expect that this year’s Triennial:

Tyanna Buie knows how transformative art can be.

Buie, 32, grew up in and out of the foster care system in Milwaukee and Chicago, and began making art after she entered what she calls the first “safe environment” of her life at age 8, when her aunt took her in. “For the first time,” she says, “I was looking at things and feeling interested in what was going on around me.” She created dioramas of her neighborhood and sketched pop culture icons for kids at school.

During her undergrad studies at Western Illinois University and grad school in Madison, Buie began using printmaking and mixed media to examine her family background and the history of African Americans, incorporating themes of loss, memory and incarceration.

Still, a career making art was not something easily within reach. But making it into the 2013 Triennial at Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, which spotlights Wisconsin’s most compelling artists, changed everything for her.

“Artists strive for galleries, but you really strive for museums,” she says. “You have a different type of accessibility to the public, but you also have curators that you’ve dreamt of working with your whole life, and the opportunity to be in a museum opens those doors. It’s much harder to get into a museum, period. All artists know that.”

At the show, she exhibited 38” x 50” portraits of people from her past, with the facial features missing or obscured. “To make [my art] more universal, I always think about what information I can leave out. The viewers can fill in the gaps,” she says. Looking at her work, a viewer experiences a matrix of African American experiences throughout history.

After the 2013 Triennial, all of Buie’s exhibited work sold immediately, as did any work that resembled those pieces. She is now an assistant professor of visual arts for Detroit’s College of Creative Studies. Her work is part of the permanent collection at the Milwaukee Art Museum, and she was recently reviewed in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Before being accepted into the Triennial, she says, “I believed in me, but when you are on a center stage at a reputable museum like MMoCA, people around you take you more seriously as an artist.”

For more on this showcase, visit Isthmus.